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Barbecue Secrets

Recipes of the week: The bigger cuts - Barbecue Beef Brisket and Planked Leg of Lamb

Jul 20, 2012

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The King of Barbecue: Beef Brisket

Makes 10–16 servings, depending on the size of the brisket and guest appetites

This sinewy, fatty cut of beef may not be something you see often in the supermarket’s meat section, but it’s one of the most flavorful meats, and it’s the classic barbecue choice in Texas. The bigger the brisket, the juicier the end product. Smaller cuts can end up dry. Cooking a brisket requires a long-term commitment. Plan to do this on a day when you can stay around the house doing yard work or watching sports on TV. The process I’ve described here is as close as possible to what we do in competition. The end result is succulent, fork-tender slices of meat that need no accompaniment, but if you insist, serve them with a little dipping sauce, some coleslaw, beans, and pickled onions. The charred, fatty crust of the brisket can be cut off and roughly chopped to make “burnt ends,” which are superb either in a bun or thrown into some baked beans to give them an extra jolt of smoky, fatty flavor.

1 whole brisket, 10–14 pounds | 4.5 to 6 kg,
with a nice white fat cap
3 quarts | 3 L apple juice
1 cup | 250 mL prepared mustard
1 Tbsp | 15 mL granulated garlic
11/2 cups | 375 mL Championship Barbecue Rub or
Texas–Style Rub 2 cups | 500 mL apple juice mixed with bourbon and
maple syrup in a spray bottle
2 cups | 500 mL Ron’s Rich, Deeply Satisfying
Dipping Sauce or your favorite barbecue sauce

For large cuts like pork butts and briskets, the rule of thumb is to cook them 11/2 hours per lb | 500 g. That means a 10 lb | 4.5 kg brisket will take 15 hours to cook, so you really need to start cooking it the night before you’re going to serve it. Your timing doesn’t have to be exact, so you shouldn’t have to get up at 3 in the morning to put on the roast. (I usually put a big brisket on just before going to bed, at about midnight). Sealed in foil and wrapped in a blanket (or in a 160˚F | 70˚C oven), a cooked brisket can sit for a few hours before you serve it.
            Take your thawed brisket out of the refrigerator and let it sit for an hour or two, so it starts to come up to room temperature. Prepare your smoker for barbecuing, bringing the temperature to 200–220˚F | 95–100˚C. Make sure you line your water pan with a double layer of extra-wide foil and fill the pan with apple juice. Use as much charcoal or hardwood as your smoker or pit will hold. A good water smoker will hold close to 15 lb | 7 kg of charcoal, which will burn for almost 24 hours. (You should know your smoker well before you attempt to cook a brisket.)
            There should be a nice fat cap on the brisket. Trim the excess fat off it with a sharp knife so you’re left with a layer about 1/8 to 1/4 inch | 3 to 5 mm thick.
            Coat the brisket with regular ballpark mustard. Sprinkle both sides with a light coating of granulated garlic. Coat both sides of the brisket with a heavy sprinkling of barbecue rub so that it is evenly coated.
            Let the brisket rest for about half an hour, until the rub starts to get moist and tacky—the salt in the rub pulls some of the juices out of the roast, and this helps to make a nice crust. Put the brisket, fat side up, into your smoker and place some hickory or mesquite chunks on top of the coals. Cook the brisket for 11/2 hours per lb | 500 g.
            The internal temperature of the brisket should rise very gradually throughout the cooking time, reaching a final temperature of about 180˚F | 82˚C. If you’re going to use a meat thermometer, keep it in the roast—don’t use one that you poke into the meat every time you use it, because it will cause the juices to run out. Halfway through the cooking time (first thing in the morning), turn the brisket, spraying it on both sides with the apple juice/bourbon mixture. At this point, be sure to add some more hardwood chunks and top up the water pan with hot water. Also, make sure you have plenty of coals left, and replenish them if you’re running low.
            Three-quarters of the way through the cooking time, turn the brisket and spray it  again. About two hours before you take it out of the smoker, turn it and give it a good coating of barbecue sauce on both sides. Cook the sauce-coated brisket for about another half hour, just enough so the sauce starts to set. Give the brisket one more coating of glaze, take it off the cooking grate, and wrap it in a double layer of foil (the extra-wide works best). Put the wrapped brisket back to cook for 1 more hour.
            Remove the brisket and let it rest for at least an hour. In competition, our briskets often rest for as many as 3 or 4 hours.
            Take the brisket out of the foil and slice it, perpendicular to the grain, in about 1/8- to 1/4-inch | 3 to 6 mm slices. Serve it just like that, on a plate, with a little barbecue sauce on the side for dipping.

Barbecue Secrets
For some reason, freezing helps to tenderize a brisket. I always freeze mine and then thaw it in the refrigerator for at least two days before cooking. Once it’s thawed, store it in the refrigerator.

When a brisket is done, it looks like a meteorite—so dark and crusty that you can’t see the grain of the meat. Barbecue competitors mark the brisket before cooking it to make carving easy. Before you start preparing the brisket for cooking, cut off
a 3- or 4-oz | 125- or 150 g chunk of meat from the flat end of the brisket, perpendicular to the grain of the meat. This marks the roast so you know where to start carving slices.

Championship Barbecue Rub, a.k.a. Bob’s Rub


Makes about 3 cups | 750 mL


The Butt Shredders call this Bob’s Rub, and it’s what we use in competition. Bob Lyon, the granddaddy of barbecue in the Pacific Northwest, shared this at the barbecue workshop that first
introduced me to the joys of real barbecue and prompted me to become a barbecue competitor. It follows a rule of thumb that’s worth remembering: A third, a third, a third. Which means one-third sugar, one-third seasoned salts, and one-third dry herbs and spices.


1 cup | 250 mL white sugar

1/4 cup | 50 mL celery salt

1/4 cup | 50 mL garlic salt

1/4 cup | 50 mL onion salt

1/4 cup | 50 mL seasoning salt (I like Lawrey’s)

1/3 cup | 75 mL chili powder (use a commercial blend, or if you want an edge, try a combination of real ground chiles like ancho, poblano, New Mexico or guajillo)

1/3 cup | 75 mL black pepper

1/3 cup | 75 mL paprika


Add as much heat as you want to this basic rub, using cayenne pepper, hot paprika, or ground chipotles. Then add 2 or 3 signature spices to suit whatever you’re cooking or your personal taste, like powdered thyme, oregano, cumin, sage, powdered ginger, etc. Add only 1 to 3 tsp | 5 to 15 mL of each signature seasoning so as not to overpower the rub.


Texas-style Rub


Makes about 2 cups | 500 mL


Everyone has a friend of a friend of a friend who knows someone in Texas with a great rub recipe. This one came to me through occasional Butt Shredder and barbecue enthusiast Ian “Big Daddy” Baird. The cayenne gives it a nice burn. Use it as an all-purpose rub, but it really makes brisket sing.


3/4 cup | 175 mL paprika

1/4 cup | 50 mL kosher salt

1/4 cup | 50 mL sugar

1/4 cup | 50 mL ground black pepper

1/4 cup | 50 mL chile powder

2 Tbsp | 25 mL garlic powder

2 Tbsp | 25 mL onion powder

1 Tbsp | 15 mL cayenne, or to taste


Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix them together well.


Planked Leg of Lamb with Red Wine Reduction

Makes 4–6 servings

Yes, you can plank a whole leg of lamb. And, surprisingly, cedar works very nicely, although any of the hardwoods, particularly apple or cherry, are also excellent. Serve this lamb with grilled vegetables, which you can do next to the meat during the last hour of cooking.

1 cooking plank, soaked overnight or for at least 1 hour
one 6 lb | 2.7 kg bone-in leg of lamb
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
16 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp | 15 mL mustard powder
12 sprigs fresh thyme
one 750 mL bottle Cabernet Sauvignon or other red wine
1 cup | 250 mL chicken stock
3 large shallots, finely chopped

Season the lamb with salt and pepper and drizzle some olive oil on it, using your hands to evenly coat the leg in the oil. Push 4 of the garlic cloves through a garlic press and spread the garlic evenly over the lamb. Dust the leg with the mustard powder and massage it into the flesh. Lightly crush the rest of the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife.
            Preheat the grill on medium-high for 5–10 minutes, or until the chamber temperature rises above 500°F | 260°C. Rinse the soaked plank and place it on the cooking grate. Cover the grill and heat the plank for 4–5 minutes, or until it starts to throw off a bit of smoke and crackles lightly. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
            On the plank, make a bed of the crushed garlic and half of the thyme sprigs. Place the lamb leg on top, fat side up, and place the rest of the thyme sprigs along the top of the roast, patting them so they stick to the meat. Cook the leg for about 11⁄2 hours, or until the lamb has an internal temperature of 125°F | 52°C at the thickest part of the roast.
            While the lamb is roasting, pour the wine and chicken stock into a heavy saucepan and add the shallots. Bring the mixture to a medium boil and reduce it until you have about a cupful of syrupy sauce. Set it aside and keep it warm.
            When the lamb reaches the target internal temperature, take it off the grill and tent it loosely with foil. Let it rest for 30–45 minutes. Carve the lamb at the table and pass the sauce around.

Photo copyright John Sinal Photography. Used with permission. All rights reserved.